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Albania

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Tirana

Lively, colourful Tirana is where this tiny nation's hopes and dreams coalesce into a vibrant whirl of traffic, brash consumerism and unfettered fun. Having undergone a transformation of extraordinary proportions since awaking from its communist slumber in the early 1990s, Tirana's centre is now unrecognisable from those grey days, with buildings painted in primary colours, and public squares and pedestrianized streets that are a pleasure to wander. Trendy Blloku buzzes with the well-heeled and flush hanging out in bars and cafes, while the city's grand boulevards are lined with fascinating relics of its Ottoman, Italian and communist past – from delicate minarets to loud socialist murals. 

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Durres

Durrës was once – albeit briefly – Albania’s capital. It’s now virtually an extension of Tirana, joined to the capital by a ceaseless urban corridor full of hypermarkets and car dealerships. Blessed with a reasonable 10km stretch of beach, Durrës is a pleasant – if rather built up – escape from Tirana and has a charmingly Mediterranean air once you get off the seafront, which can be very crowded, noisy and a bit tacky during the summer months. The town has a long and impressive history, and for international visitors, the main reason for coming to Durrës isn't for the beaches but for the interesting Roman amphitheatre and superb archaeological museum.

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Sarande

Saranda is the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera, and come the summer months it seems like half of Tirana relocates here to enjoy the busy beach and busier nightlife along its crowd-filled seaside promenade. What was once a sleepy fishing village is now a thriving city, and while Saranda has lost much of its quaintness in the past two decades, it has retained much of its charisma. The town's beaches are nothing special, but Saranda is a great base for exploring the beaches of the riviera if you have your own transport.

Vlore Riviera

Vlore lies in the southwestern coastal region of Albania, at the southern end of the Adriatic Sea and the northern part the Ionian Sea. The Vlore coastline accounts for about 30% of the entire coast of Albania and in its proximity is located the Albanian Riviera. It is 135km from the capital city, Tirana, separated by only 72km from Italy (Channel of Otranto) and 123km from Greece (the island of Corfu). The surface area of Vlore is 1609km2 and includes 4 cities; Vlore, Selenica, Himara and Orikum. 

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Ksamil

Delightful Ksamil, 17km south of Saranda, sits on a narrow arm of land between a sparkling lagoon famed for its mussels and a cobalt-coloured sea. The entire area surrounding the small town is a protected zone and the dusty tracks and pathways leading over olive-studded hills and along ancient water canals are a joy to explore. The coastline around Ksamil is also unusually attractive. Blessed with three small, dreamy islands (sadly, one of which is being quarried for construction material) within swimming distance of shore and dozens of pretty cove beaches, Ksamil is the kind of place where you can happily while away many sun-drenched days.  Late September is idyllic.

Shkoder&Theth 

Shkodra, the traditional centre of the Gheg cultural region, is one of the oldest cities in Europe and